Donald Trump’s election, even though Hillary Clinton won a narrow plurality of the popular vote, has created a chorus for doing away with the Electoral College. In response, many commentators have defended the Electoral College by noting that both candidates knew the rules.
From Washington Examiner
Had those rules provided for the election to be determined by the winner of the popular vote, they say, the candidates would have campaigned differently with no guarantee Clinton would have won the popular vote.
This is true insofar as it goes, but a bit beside the point. It concedes that the winner of the popular vote should always win the presidency. If that is so, why not just have the election determined by popular vote? The Electoral College can only be justified if, sometimes, it is appropriate for a candidate to win the presidency without winning the popular vote. Fortunately, it is.
First, it is impossible to win the Electoral College without receiving enough votes to finish first in many states. Moreover, in four of the five elections where the popular vote winner has not won the Electoral College, the popular vote winner received only a plurality, not a majority, of votes. (The fifth, Sam Tilden in 1876, won 50.9 percent of the popular vote, thanks to massive voter fraud and suppression of black votes in southern states which inflated his margin in the popular vote). In such circumstances, no candidate can claim a true “mandate of the people.”
While the popular vote is important, it also matters how popular coalitions are built. You may have seen maps showing the relative handful of counties that voted for Clinton clinging to the coasts or sitting as islands of blue in a sea of red counties that voted for Trump. One could literally drive from the Gulf Coast to Canada, or from the Atlantic to the Pacific, without ever leaving a county that voted for Trump.
Of course, a voter is a voter, no matter where they live. But notice the diversity of the counties that voted for Trump. They include manufacturing centers, farming areas, hard-rock mining communities, energy-producing counties, small cities and towns covering every part of the country. Counties carried by Clinton, in contrast, are overwhelmingly coastal, urban, and dominated by financial and service industries, rather than those who produce the hard goods of society.
These “blue” counties already control most centers of power in the United States, including the richest counties where media and Hollywood dominate and set the nation’s cultural agenda and those where the permanent government bureaucracy already resides.
In a country as large and diverse as the United States, a system that forces candidates to campaign away from the people who already control the nation’s financial, cultural and governmental hubs is a good thing. The Electoral College forces candidates to build broad-based coalitions that cover the country.
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